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Human Rights Issues in Prison

There are ten basic principles for how prisoners should be treated, according to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commission. These principles include the following: all prisoners shall be treated with respect, there shall be no discrimination, prisoner’s religious and cultural beliefs shall be respected, prisons are responsible for the custody of prisoners, all prisoners shall retain human rights and fundamental freedoms, all prisoners have the right to take part in cultural activities and education, prisons shall restrict the use of solitary confinement, conditions shall be created enabling prisoners to undertake meaningful remunerated employment which will facilitate their reintegration into the country's labor market, prisoners shall have access to health services and conditions shall be created for the reintegration of the ex-prisoner into society under the best possible conditions. While these are the set rules of the UN, it is important to note that no prison system follows the rules perfectly. Still, some countries succeed at following these rules more than others. The United States has its laws for prison systems which include protecting prisoners from unequal treatment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment and requiring prisoners to be afforded a minimum standard of living, according to research conducted by Cornell Law School. However, in the areas of education, healthcare and solitary confinement there is still a gray area regarding what prison laws allow. This distinction is clearer in Europe where prisons focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, these types of prisons (mainly in Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway) focus less on aggressive tactics than the United States and turn toward a human dignity approach believing that there are certain moral principles that the institution must follow. As a result, these countries have seen a positive impact on prisoners. 

Kallie Fox is an undergraduate student at Purdue University. She is currently a senior who is majoring in Political Science with a focus in International Relations. She is also minoring in Mandarin and Law & Society. She currently works for the John Martinson Honors College at Purdue University as an Intercultural Ambassador and is also a chair member on the Honors Program Council. 


8469. “How Some European Prisons Are Based on Dignity Instead of Dehumanization.” 

“Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners.” OHCHR

LII Staff. “Prisoners' Rights.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, 26 Dec. 


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